Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


[Excitement over elephants at Amber left me without enough stamina for the pink city of Jaipur.  Built in the early 18th century by the ruler of Rajasthan, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, it became his capital instead of Amber and was India's first planned city.  Its streets were first painted pink for a visit by the Prince of Wales in the 1850s.  But the attractions of the teaming streets - flower sellers and dentists' stalls - seem to have caught my attention more than the opulent architecture.

There's a beautifully written book that portrays Jaipur and its princely family at the time of Indian Independence which came out in the 1980s: 'A Princess Remembers: Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur' by Gayatri Devi and Santha Rama Rau - highly recommend it.]

WEDNESDAY 8TH DECEMBER, 1976 - Part Three 

"Went on to Jaipur.  Pink sandstone city in modern layout (supposed to be famous for its jewels).  Wandered up and down a couple of streets (4 radiating from a roundabout) with Jan - didn't like to dive into narrow bazaar area.  Bedevilled with people trying to sell wrapover skirts (nice if had the money).

Felt exhausted but decided to walk up top of pink palace (18th century Persian architecture - am I right about this?) and finally found entrance archway, then headed into wrong courtyard!  When found the main stairway (which was in fact signposted to Memorial!) it was closed!  Failed as tourists once again!

Camped not far away, off the road by some haystacks.  Jan is back in our tent - the others had big boast of sleeping outside - teased me about snakes but they all slept inside tent eventually!  I was shoved behind the tent pole! 

Silly evening on bus - we've a mouse on board!"


[Next stop this December day was Amber (the old capital of Rajasthan in the 11th century) and its fabulous palace.  Anywhere that had so many elephants, my favourite animal , was going to have a strong appeal.  (I was brought up on Barbar the Elephant stories and for years as a child believed the mountain in central Edinburgh was called Barbar's Seat).  The palace was built with a special wide walk for the elephants, and for those who had the money, you could still approach it that way.  This was one of the places I attempted to use the temperamental cine camera; the result was a lot of dark shadow and the flash of an elephant for a split second.

Down in the town, I think I caught a glimpse of Ghandi's ghost ...  Barbar and Ghandi - two big influences on my life in one place.] 


"Stopped at Amber - interesting village, with superb fort and palace on top of hill (various other temples etc on other surrounding hills).  Walked up elephant walk to palace (lots of elephants with painted trunks and ears giving rides up).  Lovely gardens below and big pond with ornamental garden.

Big courtyard inside with arcades all round (some tourist shops), elephants and gardens.  Up rampart into palace proper.  Nice view from this courtyard over pond and valley below.  Lovely entrance into inner courtyard - pink tiles etc. 

Smaller courtyard with royal quarters around it.  Hall of mirrors - beautiful glass and mirrors covering walls - brightly coloured glass in form of flowers, people, animals with alabaster on top.  Remains of inlaid sandalwood and ivory doors.  Water shute and marble grate where the breeze came through to cool the place in summer (1600s).

Down to village to find a drink.  Fascinating medicine man - long unkempt black hair, very dark skin, sitting in his loincloth by a cloth spread with bottles and little heaps of something - several little boys helping him who also sat cross-legged by him.

Little old man with loincloth and a walking stick was dashing round the village - eventually jumped on a bus."

Friday, 11 December 2009


[Swaggies roll up their foamies and set off on the road once more, heading out of sophistocated Delhi and into rural India.  Some take to camel transport ...]


"Left Delhi after a lot of fuss and milling about on the bus.  Left Fred - he's going straight to Kathmandu.

Flags out at army barracks - perhaps for Hungarian PM.  Countryside more barren - gullies and scrub.  Then plain again - lots of camels, dusty countryside but with quite a few trees (pig shooting country).

 Stopped at village - Shirely got onto a camel - huge amused crowd - all round the bus too, selling bananas.  Saw mongeese at side of the road.

Lunch stop off the road - camels leisurely pulling carts and disappearing down paths lined with tall grasses.  Watched busy paths of ants and ant hill where they were dragging bits of grass and taking grain and coming out with the husk.  Chris put them into a state of disorganisation and crisis by digging a channel across their path (about quarter inch deep!)

Saw 3 bad accidents in the morning alone - all big trucks."

DELHI CAMPSITE - no money for the bright lights but happy with corned beef and salad

[Money - or lack of it - was beginning to curb my tourist choices, and reduced me to hanging out at the campsite.  But at 18 I was easily pleased - an ice-cream, a lift on a Harley Davidson and a camp supper of corned beef seemed to be all it took to keep me happy!]

Inscription in Buddhist temple, Delhi


" They [Chris and Nicki] went off to embassy and we [Aussie Jan and me] went round emporiums of different states - nicely done up shops with regional handicrafts.  Got choker from Maharashtra and sandalwood letter opener/pen from Kerala. 

Felt really shattered, so hunted down an ice-cream shop (best ice-cream ever - strawberry flavour) then piled into a Harley Davidson to the campsite.

Had a shower, hair wash - felt much better!
Sat in campsite cafe (on raised terrace) drinking coffee and chatting with Jan, Sue, Fred.  Lovely camp supper of salad and corned beef (no money to eat out or go to Son et Lumiere.  Caberet was on!  But too far out of town! sob sob)  There was a circus in town too.

Spent evening at cafe - big reminiscence of Durham, and Sunderland at Wembley with Di (owe her a coffe at House of Andrews!)

Others came back from Son et Lumiere - good music and lighting - and British Empire bashing in last 15 minutes!  Picked up Mike - mad Irishman working in Ceylon (VSO)"


[It was chill-out time in India's capital city and then a meander through the bazaar area, Chandni Chauk, and a hot-bottom ride into Connaught Circus in central New Delhi.]


"Had a lazy half a morning - coffee and actually cleaned my shoes! 
Went into Delhi with Jan, Chris and Nicki by foot.  Walked up to Red Fort - I acted as official guide much to annoyance of real one who kept insisting he knew more than I did!  Had a coffee in the arcade.  (Red Ford built in 1600s by Shahjahan - put in prison by his third son who also bumped off his brothers to become Moghul)

Walked up to Chandi Chauk - very busy; amazing characters, people selling flowers of bright orange and yellow.  Women with baskets of mud on heads.  Great amount of drapers - cheap looking garments and loads of bright clothes.  Bazaar looked a bit too dingy.  Got scooter rickshaws to Connaught Circus - me and Jan got into a real heap - there was smoke coming up behind the seat and by me; my seat was red-hot!

Chris and Nicky took us to the Indian coffee-house up a lift - a real grotty cafe, but with waiters dressed in white with green cummerbunds and hats with parrot crest-type top.  Had 6 chips and a coffee!"

Thursday, 10 December 2009

DELIGHTFUL DELHI - Mohguls, monkeys, levitation and a Harley Davidson!

[In a letter home I wrote that 'Delhi's a super place - drove around the new part - lovely broad steets and parkland.  Had a really good guided tour of the Red Fort'.  Little did I know that I was going to see a lot more of Delhi than I bargained for once the bus trip was over - and not as a tourist.  But luckily that 18 year old was oblivious to anything beyond the next amazing marble building or crowded bazaar.]


"I cooked porridge!

Took bus into New Delhi for a tour of town.  Really lovely broad streets and parks with big meadows and trees.  Drove up main parade road (crash barriers because used for processions on Republic Day etc)  Viceroy's palace in front (hazy but impressive) and then past Parliament buildings and up Parliament Street to post office - 6 letters.

Very moving letter from Mum describing Chief's [Dame Flora] funeral and cuttings showing Dad, Don, Rory, Tom and other familiar faces.  Felt I'd really experienced it.  All of them had carried coffin.  Felt upset - Di cheered me up by letting me talk about it.

Went to Nepalese Embassy for some people to get visas.  Saw round modern Hindu Temple - fascinating, mass of colour, almost garish.  Made me happy and want to laugh all the time.  Many statues of gods and goddesses.  Next door was a Buddhist shrine.  Elephant statues in the garden.

Drove to Connaught Circus and stopped for lunch.  Went and found a milk bar with Heidi and Di - dim lights, posh enterior and expensive prices - so had half a sandwich and a coffee for lunch!  Dodged back among bicyclists and richshaws. 

Taken to "Ivory Palace" where we saw men stitching gold and silver thread on black velvet and carving intricate ivory pieces.  Lovely showroom of gems, evening bags, metalwork and ivory chess sets, jewellery, elephants etc - ivory sofa, chairs and screens that took 25 years to make by 2 men.  (This was near big Mosque).

Went to Red Fort (Di, Sally and Fran).  Got a guide who was very interesting about fort - Lahore Gate, "umbrella" bazaar, barracks, gardens, drum house and parade to audience house where Moghul Emperor sat on huge marble throne and listened to petitions etc. (used to be a marble way covered with canvas, lined with people).  Tiles behind throne of attractive birds taken by British but returned by Lord Curzon.  Lots of little chipmunks running about in the gardens.  Lovely marble buildings - delicate archways, inlaid jewels in shape of flowers etc.  Peacock throne base was in one of them - but throne now in Tehran.  Used to be a silver ceiling, channel of running water and big fountain in shape of lotus leaf.

Balcony looking over parks where Emperor used to say good morning to people.  Looked over this side of wall and saw a boy beating time while monkeys danced and jumped - threw him some "baksheesh".  Then two boys doing levitation trick - one beating while other rises up under big white sheet.

Saw women's winter and summer baths and a private mosque of the family's.  On the way back were taken into a jewellers and I bought a little jade elephant (student's price!).  Got a Harley Davidson back to campsite (motor bike had big carriage behind and above - very open).

Went shopping for dinner with Chris, Nicki and Di.  Couldn't find any veg or rice (dark by now).  Man kept trying to sell us sandalwood necklaces in French!  Tried to get through to him and friends that wanted vegetables - they thought we wanted sandalwood tables!  Finally got through to him, so he took us off down dark narrow lanes, crowded out with kids and people and animals eating in the road.  Got to veg shop (men ironing in the back and veg in the front!)

Cooked for 20 - only about 13 around."

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

EMERALD PUNJAB - palms, crocodiles, milk bars, bright green parrots!

[Now back in the Punjab after Kashmir, I was excited by everything I saw and aware that my grandfather Bob Gorrie could have been responsible for some of the trees planted 50 years previously.  One of his areas of expertise was the problem of soil erosion.  Trees were crucial in stopping this erosion from hillsides and from silting up fields and river courses.

His photo shows where 'a big dam of earth and sand has been built by 14 villages each doing their share of the digging and carrying.  It is to keep a river in its proper place and stop it cutting away villages and fields.  It has since been planted up with a lot of trees which I had to arrange for.']


"Geoff on the rampage because us cooks had slept in!  Lovely sunrise and ball of fire through the trees.  Locals watching but at a discrete distance.  Puffer train went by.

Interesting day's drive - oxen pulling ploughs in greeny-brown fields - some green quite emerald in colour.  Palm-like trees among the others.  Big hay stacks and smaller cone-like grey ones.  Bright green parrots flew across road.  Plenty of horn blowing at slow oxen and carts and public buses.  Stopped to shop in village.  Medicine man sitting with bottles and baby crocodiles!

Next stop at a milk bar by a very pleasant garden - lawn and lots of flowers, 2 coloured umbrellas - part of a new dairy complex (project mostly in Punjab and nearby state).  Really nice cold milk drink - supposedly pineapple but tasted like the last one which was chocolate!

Stopped for lunch at cay shop - great little fellow collecting cups - big smiles, great concentration for job!  Builders nearby - wooden rough logs as scaffolding.  Very dark skinned workers.  Bill got left behind - Shirley only realised quarter of an hour after we left!  She suddenly shrieked "Where's Willy?"!  Bill drove up in a truck a few minutes later!

Interesting countryside - little mud huts.  Great crowd by the road and going along parallel railway - great collection of trucks by side of the road - probably a local village fair - people streaming in on the area.

Reached Delhi after dark - through old city - great bright lights everywhere - big circus and old bazaar lit up.  Cooked on compound of campsite in middle of town.  Great meal!"
[My cooking team was Chrispin, Nicky and myself]

India Gate, New Delhi

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BACK TO JUNGLE INDIA & ROUGH CAMPING - "Drive slowly your family needs you."

[My letters home had been full of 'the great hospitality aboard the Golden Bell' and the 'superb meals' cooked by Noor's father, but now it was back to reality - the bus and camping rough and watching out for reptiles in the long grass!  I obviously wasn't adapting well, as that night I went to bed without supper - I assume it was my choice and I wasn't banished for inferior cooking]


"Left houseboats early - given pack lunches - father came through for tip.  Noor saw us off.  Nice morning - sunny when leaving of course.  Felt like beginning of term to get onto empty bus again!

Valley looked nicer in sunlight.  Snow quite low down - fallen since we'd come.  Passed huge army convoy all having a pee at side of the road!  Climbed up to pass again.   Lovely gorge on other side - trees again on steep sided mountains.

Signs on roads like, "Drive slowly your family needs you"!  Made good time - reached Kud again where ate picnic lunch at cay shop on terrace. 

                                                                                                                              cay shop at Kud

Hills smaller, trees more dense.  Hydro-electric station.  Lovely purple hedgerows.

Drove quite late and camped on bit of old road - tents all in a row (Charge of the Light Brigade style!)  Geoff said keep out of long grass - snakes!!  Went to bed early without supper - so tired."

Monitor lizard found in my grandparents'
 garden in Indian foothills, 1930s

Monday, 7 December 2009


[Me and Noor on his shikara]

[Life on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir might have been an echo of the Raj but we were seeing it in the bone-chilling winter.  I recall wistfully in a letter home that 'it must be idyllic in the spring or summer drifting around the lake in a shikara ...!'  As it was, the monotonous brown of bare trees and dead vegetation was relieved only by snow covered peaks and the blue flash of a kingfisher.  After an hour of sitting freezing in an open boat, we aborted a trip to the Moghul Gardens across the Lake, and asked to be taken home.  Noor, our host, abviously thought us a bunch of wimps and declared us 'artificial'.  Only the familiar and welcome cry of 'chocolates! macaroons!' and the sudden appearance of the chocolate seller's shikara, lifted morale.
I observed in a letter home: 'you can get everything off these passing shikaras from shawls to vegetables.  I think some of them are telepathic, because you just had to murmur that you'd fancy a chocolate and they'd be there outside the window!']


" Porridge! Omelette

Taken by shikara to woodwork factory deep in middle of the Lake past slummy looking houses - very quiet up narrow canals - lots of vegetables growing.  No carving being done because still a holiday - very ornate carvings of dragons etc. 

Loads of us in little shikara on way back - one fella carrying bits of mutton - cut them the first day, give them as presents the next.  [This was still the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha] Taken to bank, then me and Neva had a short walk up to bridge - most of shops closed.  Lovely lunch of fish, tomatoes, chips, carrots followed by apple in pastry (very smoky taste).

Very cold trip in shikara to see Moghul gardens  Stopped at post office on a houseboat on the way.  Really freezing, so asked them to stop at small floating restaurant (government owned) and had cup of tea.  (Saw Maharajah's house in distance, old king's dwelling on mountainside and fort away in opposite direction.  Snow on hills in front.  Got them to turn back.  Had a go at paddling!  Stopped the chocolate man and had macaroon!  Noor said we were "artificial" for not wanting to go on (but would have been caught in the dark if had gone all the way).  Saw 2 blue kingfishers on fence by water.

Thawed out by stove.  Hot shower and good meal - felt better.  Noor pestered me to sell him my shorts for 5 rupees, so finally agreed.

[Neva and Julie in shikara]

Women wear great head gear - veil pinned at back of head and hanging quite long."